Panama City – The end of an eclectic friendship

Our first full day in Panama City was spent fixing the fact that we’d forgotten what air conditioning felt like. With a TV in our room and a bed with space enough for what felt like three (compared to Porckchop’s cozy sleeping quarters) we savored the day doing sweet FA under the cooling breeze of the AC.

The following day we took the bikes out for a cruise around town. The city has a great initiative where they shut down a large section of the beach front motorway to allow the public to embrace the peddle powered freedom of traffic free bike riding. 

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Traffic free cycling in Panama City

Taking full advantage we rode it from start to finish, with our host Lorenzo meeting us half way.  The road gives you a great perspective of the development that has overtaken the skyline in recent years, then takes you further on to the Cinta Costera, a loop of road which takes traffic over the sea to avoid the narrow streets inland, and giving you an opposing view of the old town and the beginning of the richest city in Central America.

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View of Panama City from 

You can choose to tack on the Amadour Causeway, 4 miles of recycled Panama Canal built from the excavated earth (guess they had to put it somewhere). It connects three of the islands just off shore, some dotted with restaurants, others with multi million dollar yachts docked in the marinas.

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The Frank Gehry designed Biodiversity Museum

Container ship passing under the Bridge of the Americas.  Panama City.
Cargo ship entering the Panama Canal beneath the Bridge of the Americas

Riding back past the impressive Frank Gehry designed Biomuseo (Biodiversity Museum), his first design for Latin America, the three of us were lucky enough to have timed the passing of a huge cargo ship below the Bridge Of the Americas. Leaving our host Lorenzo to it we passed into Casco Viejo, the old town. A place populated by colonial buildings, both maintained and crumbling, it’s streets make for a pleasant stroll between an entertaining mix of the human species.

San Felipe, Panama City.
Casco Viejo old town

Walking through the various plazas (many with free wifi) past the churches we curved around the old walls where you’re given a commanding view back to the new town. Done for the day and with well over 40kms under our wheels, we retired to the balcony of the apartment with a bottle of red wine (the first decent bottle we’d found for a decent price in months) looking over the action of the El Canjero neighbourhood.

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View from our AirBnB apartment in happening El Cangrejo, Panama City

Hoping that within the week we’d have the van sold, we had a lot of interest and many people came and went yet there was no sale.  It was at this point we needed to move location due to a future booking and luckily enough it was only a short ten minute walk away.  Not too disappointed that the stay was to be extended by a few days Matt (and Sarah deep inside) was overjoyed the extension would allow us to partake in the annual Mirco Brew Fest planned for the weekend.

Panama Canal.  Panama City.
Miraflores Locks, the Panama Canal

With the Mirco Brew Fest being held at the City of Knowledge, almost adjacent to the Miraflores Locks of the Panama Canal, it made complete logical sense not to do both. Now no trip would be complete without a visit to the world famous Canal and the Museum which gives a great overview of the history. Don’t worry we’re not gonna bore you with this, Google it. But we will point out there’s a 3D movie where you can pimp yourself out in these babies.

Panama Canal Musuem.  Panama City.
Miraflores Locks, worth it just for the trendy 3D glasses

Enjoying the Museum we then took the stairs to the viewing platform to wait for one of the big ships to pass through the locks. But alas the one hour wait had no chance against the plethora of amber nectar waiting across the road.  Content to watch a tourist passenger boat (which you can pay over $100 to ride, who knows why?) we hightailed it out of there and accosted the first available taxi willing to not rip us off.

Micro Brew Fest.  Panama City.
Like a kid with a golden ticket

Handing over the tickets and grabbing our sampler glass we elbowed our way past the security guard and into the candy store for beer loving adults. Sitting at one of the shaded picnic tables, lovingly decorated with a small vase of flowers, we’re so over whelmed by the selection that we foolishly start picking out all the strongest beers on the list (at $5 per half pint why wouldn’t you?) . Whoa Nelly. 

Micro Brew Fest.  Panama City.
Dirty Bastard, our stand out of the day

Not needing to pour over the content of the beers we guzzle, the festival is visited by many of the countries microbreweries with a select few foreign invitees rounding out the offerings. Breweries such as Casa Bruja, La Rana Dorada, Boca Brewery were some of the locals, Rouge (US), Bernard (Czech Republic), Mission (US) and Insurgente (Mexican) making up a part of the foreign representation, with ‘Dirty Bastard‘ Scotch style ale from Founders being our favourite of the day (although their blueberry ale came a close second!).  Bumping into Tim, the owner of Bocas Brewery whom we’d met out on Isla Colon, we had a great afternoon making new friends, before spending the night in an unfamiliar yet friendly location at a random hotel.

Micro Brew Fest.  Panama City.
Micro Brew Fest, a great way to spend a sunny afternoon in Panama City

The frustration of trying to sell the van in Panama soon becomes an unwanted reality.  The Customs guys are less than helpful, dragging their feet by sending us around in circles.  We’d done our research yet they’re still a bunch of uptight useless pricks.  We passed the time trying not to get drunk all day everyday for three weeks, yet were glad to have some familiar faces from Utila arrive in town to take away the monotony of dealing with the sale of Porkchop.

Sloth in the Metropolitan Park.  Panama City.
Sloth just hanging around in Parque Natural Metropolitano

We decided to visit the Parque Natural Metropolitano, the only protected area of forest in Central America located with the city limits. With a great view of the City, howler monkeys, a pond full of turtles, various birds and the odd sloth hanging about it was worth the $6 taxi ride out there.

Along the Causeway Islands, Panana City.
Crusing the Amadour Causeway

With more time to waste having not yet sold the van, we hit up one of the old towns rooftop bars on at Gatto Blanco at the Casa Nuratti Hotel. With no cover charge, a relaxed atmospher and great nighttime views across town it was an easy choice to start the night.

In the Metropolitan Park.  Panama City.
Parque Natural Metropolitano

Heading next door to the famous Tantalo rooftop bar, we found they had a Sin City night on with bare chested dudes carrying whips and kinky shit scattered around, not exactly the ideal setting to catch up with some old friends… unless you’re into that kind of thing. Instead we headed underground to the cave type setting of the Luna Hostel bar for some happy hour rums to finish the night.

 Rooftop pool bar at the Manrey Boutique Hotel, Panama City
Rooftop pool bar at Manrey Boutique Hotel 

Having to wave goodbye to Joy and Callan we kept our hopes high by visiting various restaurants and bars, including another rooftop bar at the Manrey Boutique, complete with rooftop pool that alternates between blue lights and a slightly eerie blood red. Still, a nice place for a evening cocktail date. If you’re into it be sure to pop into Manolo’s on Calle 55 and grab one of their sumptuous mouthwatering pizzas.

Hawaiian Pizza at Manolo, Panama City.
Real Italian style pizzas at Manolo’s on Calle 55

Needing to post a couple of boxes full of some of the crap we’ve bought over the trip, including our wedding attire we still had stashed in the van, we combined the massively interesting trip to the post office with a tour of the fish markets for some ceviche. Arriving at the markets we again bump into some old faces in Ian and George, whom we’d also met in Utila and again crossed paths in Costa Rica. Sitting down to an average ceviche (this had seafood sticks in it, not even real crab) we shoot the shit over a cold beer before taking our separate paths.

Along the Causeway Islands, Panana City.
Pelican’s in the harbour

Be warned – sending anything of size or weight from Central America is unfathomably expensive, thus making that hard bargained for souvenir a waste of time and possibly money in some cases. Anyway things down this way take a little time to progress. Instead of being able to buy a postage label for the value of your item, like in the UK for instance, we had to purchase the entire price of the postage in USD 60c stamps, you can only imagine. And if you can’t imagine here’s a picture.

What do you get when you post a $100 package and the highest denomination of stamps is 65c? An unhappy Matt and a whole lot of tape!
Matt’s happy face whilst sticking over $100 onto a box in 60c increments

Anyway there is a nice Peruvian restaurant across the way in the mall which fulfilled our hunger induced from the mammoth task of having to wrap our parcels and stick on million of stamps. Heading back to the Loteria metro station, we pass the vast number of people seated at folding tables selling some form of lottery ticket, some burning incense to draw the crowd, before buying a McDonalds medium coffee which turned out to be no bigger than a childs fist. Possibly the worst McDonalds we’ve ever visited (take that Brixton, knocked off top place!), the toilets stunk and trays covered every table, sometimes three deep.

The tasty Peruvian place next to the post office, Panama City.
Cheap filling Peruvian food while you wait for your husband to finish sticking stamps on boxes

Many a people come and go, most interested, some not, and while the import tax scares some of them off, others just plainly trying to low ball us before they’ve even seen our price and joy.

WON’T SOMEBODY JUST BUY YOU PORKCHOP GOD DAMN IT!!!

Time eventually comes to make the tough decision – what is the next step? Already having spent three week in Panama City, prospective buyers just aren’t coming through.  Needing to yet again move accommodation we take the view that the more time spent here the less we get in South America.

Sorry Porkchop we’re ditching you on the side of the road.  Not something we’d envisioned when we started this expedition though unfortunately had now become a reality.

San Felipe, Panama City.
Casco Viejo old town

Not such a smooth finish to the 8 month relationship either.  Whilst moving to Porkchop’s foreseeable resting place disaster struck.  Upon performing a u-turn at a busy intersection that god awful sound of metal on metal pierces the cabin. We’ve had a collision. Lucky for us we’d only that day renewed the temporary import permit and insurance, though were a little more than certain the other driver had drifted into our lane.  Not wanting to stretch things out we truely felt f&*ked, proper f&*ked.

Along the Causeway Islands, Panana City.
Casco Viejo old town

The lady we’d become ‘acquainted’ with was a lawyer.  And the worse kind of the lot, a criminal lawyer.  Trying to ease the situation and in full knowledge that we were outta there the next day, we totally blagged our way through the police, her and the numerous by standers.  Finally released from her talons and with peak hour traffic over we jetted for solitude.

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Casco Viejo old town

Moving on to Los Mostros Hostel for our last evening in Panama City, we relaxed by the pool with mixed feelings, mostly an anti-climatic letdown, contemplating the final resting point for our long term home and compadre. Poor little PC, we thought sympathetically.

Finding a suitable parking spot under a shady tree, we hid the keys, took a deep breath and keeping our chins up we tried not to think of poor Porkchop, being left all alone on the side of the road in downtown Panama City for who knows how long.

For more Panama photos you know where to go…Flickr!

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